Hands-on Gear Review
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Pros: Windproof, excellent features, stylish.
Cons: Fleece insulation can be too warm for active use, hood does not protect face well.
Best Uses: Alpine skiing, cold weather general use.
The Arc'teryx Vena SV is a fantastic softshell for downhill skiing and snowboarding, and general use in cold weather. This lightly insulated jacket is wonderfully comfortable and is our testers' favorite softshell for shredding the slopes and busting out tricks in the park on warm, sunny days. The midweight fleece insulation also make the jacket great for walking around town and for hiking on very cold days. In our ratings the Venta SV scores just behind the Patagonia Knifeblade, which is more versatile because it doesn't have fleece insulation. Go for the Venta SV if you want warmth, fantastic features, and tip-top style. However, the Venta SV is too warm for aerobic activities in all but the coldest temperatures.
There are a myriad of different softshells and all are best for different things. We try to break it all down in our Softshell Jacket Review.
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
As we describe in the Arc'teryx Venta MX review, windproof softshells are best if you already own a hardshell jacket and want something that's slightly more breathable and more comfortable. Windproof softshells are an expensive, wonderful luxury for use in windy conditions.
This jacket scores relatively low (4 out of 10) in this category because if its windproof membrane. It's poorly suited to aerobic activities unless it's very cold out. This one of two softshells we've tested that has pit zips! Arc'teryx incorporates this feature because the combination of the relatively limited breathability and the fleece insulation make it very easy to get hot in this jacket. The pit zips can help to dump heat if the front zip open but is not enough.
This jacket scores very high here (9 out of 10) because its Windstopper membrane is highly water resistant and windproof. We wish this jacket were cut longer like the Arc'teryx Venta MX is because, as you can see in our photos and in the video, the jacket rides up easily, thereby exposing your belly and back. The Venta MX's longer cut and is better for activities that involve lots of upper body movement.
Fleece insulation makes jacket is warmer than the Arc'teryx Venta MX and not as warm as the Outdoor Research Lodestar and Patagonia Northwall. It's best for high output activities in cold days.
Arc'teryx is well known for their fantastic work with patterning and the Venta SV is no exception. This jacket is super comfortable. However, our testers found that the Arc'teryx Venta MX was more comfortable for activities, like climbing, where you have your arms overhead.
The extra fleece insulation in this jacket make it relatively heavy. 23 oz!!
Wowzer, Arc'teryx hits the nail on the head with this jacket's features, which are tailored to all-purpose use. The most notable design element is the handwarmer pockets, which are better for general use (read: around town) than the climbing specific cross-over chest pockets found on the Venta MX. Arc'teryx uses their Drop Hood, which is meant for snowsports and is not as protective as the hood on the Venta MX. Though large and helmet compatible, we much prefer hoods that protect your chin better than the Drop Hood. As usual, Arc'teryx aces it when it comes to the small details like zippers and drawcords. We give the jacket 8 out of 10 points in this category.
The Venta SV is very attractive. 9 out of 10.
This jacket is best suited to downhill skiing and snowboarding in warmer weather, and around town. It works very well for hiking in very cold weather, and moderately well for climbing.
Softshells in general, and windproof softshells even more so, are a luxurious (poor value) type of apparel. They're very comfortable and can be fantastic if you have the cash for them. We recommend purchasing a hardshell jacket and a wind jacket before a softshell. Furthermore, consider the Patagonia Knifeblade softshell-- it narrowly beats the Venta SV in our ratings and might be what you're looking for if you want handwarmer pockets.
This jacket is also available without a hood, the Arc'teryx Venta AR, $300. Though that version may look better around town, we strongly recommend the hooded version because it greatly increases weather protection and versatility and is therefore a much better value. The Arc'teryx Venta MX Hoody, $450, wins our Top Pick Award, as is the ultimate softshell for ice climbing. It's more breathable and more comfortable than a hardshell, and its windproof and highly water resistant Windstopper membrane keeps you warm when the wind hammers and icicles drip. This jacket has a near perfect blend of features that make it fantastic for ice climbing.
The Arc'teryx Gamma MX Hoody - Women's, $350, is the stretchiest, most breathable, and most luxurious feeling of all the softshells we evaluated. It is the epitome of what a softshell should be and wins our Editor's Choice Award.
The Venta SV Glove, $119, are insulated and windproof.
— Chris McNamara and Max Neale
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Most recent review: March 15, 2014
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